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Wenonah Hotel, Opening of (1908)
Located on southeast corner of Center Avenue & Water Street.

The article desribes the importance of the new Wenonah Hotel to the community of Bay City. It includes references to hotel history in America, and to some of the historical hotels of this community.

Contributed by Alan Flood (August, 2004).

THE BAY CITY TRIBUNE -- Monday, Nov. 9, 1908 (Page 1)


(Here there was a large sized photogragh 4 1/4" x 6"
of the exterior of the hotel.)

This afternoon at 5 o'clock The Wenonah, Bay City's magnificent new hostelry, will throw open its doors marking the transition from the construction to the perfect stage. At exactly six o'clock the dining room doors will be thrown open and the holders of tickets will take their seats. About 1,000 people, as far as is known, will be served tonight, and it is therefore necessary that every moment of time be utilized so that those holding tickets for the second and successive tables receive the service and attention due them. Because of the necessities, it has been decided to hold no places open; ticket holders must present themselves at their seats at exactly the time indicated on their tickets.

There are a large number of visitors from outside the city and also a number of well known traveling and railroad men who have written for reservations. Besides those known of, there are many who will not be known of until they arrive, and to provide for them every possible step has been taken. It is therefore also necessary that ticket holders be on hand promptly to avoid confusion. In case they are late, their places will be given to the others.

"We cannot arrange matters otherwise," said a member of the hotel company. "We must be fair to everyone and therefore must insist that holders of tickets observe implicitely the conditions under which they pur- chased them and which are in plain letters and figures upon their tickets."

The big reception committee composed of directors and stockholders of the company and members of the board of trade, will greet the visitors and ample opportunity will be had to inspect the big building. The doors will open at 5 o'clock, when ticket holders will be admitted, giving those who have reservations for the first table an hour in which to visit and look over the magnificent hostelry. Tuesday morning the hotel will be open to the general public, and prepared to do business with guests.

All day yesterday Proprieter Shares and Manager Hill were busy arranging details for the big reception tonight. The hotel kitchens swarmed with men and women who were making in advance such preparations as were necessary. None of the details were allowed to escape and when the doors open at 5 o'clock this afternoon Bay City will be given a surprise---a surprise that will convince them that the men who built and who will conduct the hotel did everything that money enabled them to do.

- Page 3. -

The doors of the Wenonah will open at 5 o'clock this afternoon.

The dining room will open for the first table at exactly 6 o'clock.

Other tables will be at 7:45, 9:15 and 10:45.

It is absolutely necessary that those who have places engaged, take their places at the exact time. No places will be held open. Owing to the large number who will have to be served, this rule will of neccessity be rigorously enforced. Six o'clock does not mean 6:15.

The hotel will not be open to the general public today. Ticket holders will be admitted on or after 5 o'clock this afternoon. The hotel will open to the general public Tuesday morning.

An account of the hotel, or hostelry, "an inn or public tavern," ancient and modern would prove an interesting chapter in social history. The word "Inn" was anciently used in England to denote the town mansion of a public man. It was also known as a "hostelry," a name applied by Chaucer to a public inn. The modern French word is still used for the house of a rich or distinguished man, or for a public building, such as "the Hotel de Ville." Only in recent times comparatively, has the modern word been accepted though we occasionally note public houses bearing the designation of "Inns" or tavern. The latter in early times was used to designate the cheaper grade of public houses.

These public houses date back to the Roman Empire when they were located along the Roman thoroughfares to dispense food and drink to the wayfarer. With the gradual increase in travel and interchange of trade among peoples the hotel increased and for hundreds of years they have become fixed institutions in every land.

In old colonial times in the United States many of the inns bore names copied from those in England, such as "Kings," "Queens," the "Red Lion," "The Queen's Own," the "Bear," and others of like character, and in some places in England these names are still retained. But the revolution brought about a change in the colonies and names of public houses were adopted with the spirit of the times. Gen. Washington was a guest of the City Tavern, in Philadelphia in 1775; the Bunch of Grapes Tavern, Boston; where he "enjoyed an elegant dinner provided at public expence, while joy and gratitude sat on every countenance and smiled in every eye," March 28, 1776; The True American Inn, Trenton, 1777; Arnold's Tavern, Morristown; Sufferin's Tavern, Smith Cove, N.Y.; the Buck Tavern near Philadelphia, after the battle of the Brandywine; the Fountain, Baltimore, 1781; Fraunce's Tavern, New York, where in the assembly room he bade farewell to his officers. He was also entertained at the City Hotel, Alexandria, Va. The tavern where Washington stayed during an illness at East Chester was built early in the 17th century and now stands within the corporate limits of New York city. The room occupied by him remains as he left it. Gen. LaFayette was entertained there later. There were also many other noted public houses in those days, including the Catamount, Bennington, Vt.; George Burns' Coffee House, New York, the lounging place of British officers when Gen. Clinton's army occupied that city; the Tun tavern in Philadelphia in which the first Masonic lodge in America was organized; the Rose Tree Inn at Media, Pa.; the City Tavern at Richmond, and many others.

The early hotel in America was and is still to a considerable extent conducted upon what is known as the "American plan," the food and lodging being charged for at a fixed price, while under the foreign or "European plan" except in case of table d' 'hote the meals are charged for at a rate for just what was ordered. Many American hotels are now conducted on the European plan, and others combine both the American and European plans. The table of the pioneer hotel was usually supplied with all the substantials, some of the luxuries, and with an abundant supply of wines and liquors.

But the best of American hotels fifty years ago bear no comparison to the palatial hotels today in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco and nearly every large city in the United States. Not one of the old timers would stand in favorable contrast with The Wenonah in Bay City, which is to be thrown open to the public this evening.

Up to 1836 there were few hotels in the world that could accomodate 200 people. The Astor in New York and the Tremont in Boston were opened that year. In 1841 the Planters was opened at St. Louis, and in 1847 the ever to be remembered Revere hotel was opened at Boston by Paran Stevens. Since, they have come along so numerously that it would take a volume to describe them. And in point of construction, palatial accomodations and equipment the up-to-date American hotel is unrivaled in all the world.

A conservative estimate of the number of hotels in the United States in 1903 was 43,500, giving employment to three million people and representing an investment of six billion dollars. As stated the hotel is a public necessity of our every day life. Travel and facilities for traveling have multiplied and hotel business has marvelously increased. The smallest hamlet is represented by a house where the public is entertained, and as cities and towns develop, so also the number of hotels increase.

The present site of The Wenonah has been occupied as a site of a public house since 1865. The late James Fraser, one of the pioneers of the Saginaw valley, came to Bay City early in the thirties and was extensively engaged in real estate and other business ventures up to his death in 1865. Before he died he erected the walls for the large and elegant hotel which bore his name, but he did not live to see it finished. It was a four story and basement building and for many years filled the public requirements.

But the increase in growth of Bay City called for more extended hotel accomodations. The Fraser house property was held by an estate which was not disposed to tear down the old structure and erect a modern one in its place, and the Fraser house site was generally regarded as the most desirable.

Thus things ran along for some years. The old Fraser had outlived its usefulness. The Campbell, Wolverton, Globe and other houses were still lower in rating than the Fraser. Bye and bye many traveling men who form an important factor in the clientele of a public house refused to accept the accomodations of the house and remained at Saginaw. Bay City people squirmed and conceded that a new hotel was a necessity but no one appeared willing to make the investment.

But fate came to the aid of Bay City. On the night of December 23, 1906, fire destroyed the old house which for forty years had catered to the people who cultivated the cheerful habit of visiting Bay City.

Fire having dealt the old hostelry a solar plexus, discussion at once began as to the absolute necessity of doing something to supply what everybody recognized as a public necessity. Various plans were discussed but nothing at once developed.

February 29, 1907, a dozen business men were invited to the residence of A. E. Bousfield on the evening of that day to talk up the hotel project.

The meeting was a surprise to nearly all present and the magnitude of the proposed project startled some.

At that meeting Mr. Bousfield laid before those present a plan for a public house---palatial in all appointments and adequate to the splendid development of Bay City---and a public park; the idea being to give the hotel a clear perspective of the river front.

This project involved the erection of a hotel at a cost of something over $300,000 and an auditorium estimated to cost $50,000, contingent upon the people of Bay City voting an issue of $200,000 bonds for the purchase of two blocks on the river front, and the removal of the buildings and conversion of the site into a public park.

The boldness of the scheme fairly took the breath from many. But there were men of money and brains there who at once championed the enterprise and declared it feasable. Such men as A. E. Bousfield, W. L. Clements, W. L. Churchill, C. R. Wells, W. D. Young, C. A. Eddy, C. F. Eddy, S. O. Fisher, H. B. Smith, Thos. Cranage, H. G. Wendland and a number of others expressed confidence that the venture could be made a success.

The proposition was laid before the common council and the people of Bay City. Naturally there was spirited opposition and the campaign leading up to the election was crimson-hued. But thanks to the influence of the money men who pledged to put their money into the project, the people had confidence in them and by an overwhelming majority authorized the issuing of the bonds.

The Wenonah Building Co. was organized and the preparations for building the hotel inaugurated. But there was intolerable delay on the part of the city government in issuing and negotiating the bonds. Seven months elapsed before anything whatever was done but finally this matter was adjusted. Meantime the construction of the hotel progressed and it is now complete, a source of pride to those who have made the splendid structure a possibility, and to the city as well. No more valuable public institution can be invested in by any community than a well constructed public house for the entertainment of the traveling public.

Lack of adequate hotel facilities is a distinct loss to the business of a town. Probably not one in ten of the people of Bay City could form an idea as to the extent which Bay City has suffered through the lack of these public necessities. A conservative estimate places the loss in business to the city the last twenty years at $150 to $300 per week.

The development of the park and the erection of the auditorium are being worked out and will come in due course of time.

The gentlemen who evinced sufficient public spirit to bring about the consummation of this project are entitled to the unreserved thanks of the people of Bay City. Not in all the years has there been a more substantial contribution to the public necessities of Bay City. It will be a standing advertisement in the coming years to the broad public spirit of the business men of the city and should stimulate them to still further undertakings calculated to be of public benefit.

The advert of The Wenonah forms an epoch in the history of Bay City and the Saginaw valley. It is the ushering in of a new era as it were in the business progress of the city. It combines the features of both a tourist and commercial hotel, and in its entire scope and all its appointments and outfit it is surpassed by no hotel in the United States save in size in a few of the larger cities. It is an earnest of the loyalty and devotion of a few men of brains and means to the city in which they live. It is an initial index of what can be accomplished when men get together and conspire for the public good. It should stimulate other citizens to endeavor along lines that will make for the betterment of Bay City. It is an enduring monument not only to the builders but to the people of Bay City. It will prove the most alluring advertisement the city could possibly have and its reputation will extend far and wide.

Related Notes & Pages

(Click to enlarge.)
Wenonah Hotel (1935)
View southeast
from Wenonah Park.

The Wenonah Hotel was destroyed by fire in Dec., 1977.
Related Pages:
Wenonah Hotel Description
People Referenced
Bousfield, A.E.
Burns, George
Churchill, W.L.
Clements, W.L.
Clinton, (Gen.)
Cranage, Thos.
Eddy, C.A.
Fisher, S.O.
Fraser, James
Hill, (Manager)
Lafayette, (Gen.)
Shares, (Proprieter)
Smith, H.B.
Stevens, Paran
Washington, (Pres.)
Wells, C.R.
Wendland, H.G.
Young, W.D.
Subjects Reference
Arnold's Tavern, Morristown
Astor Hotel, NY
Battle of Barndywine
Board of trade
Buck Tavern, Philadelpha
Bunch of Grapes Tavern
Campbell House, Bay City
Catamount, Bennington, VT
Chicago, IL
City Hotel, Alexandrea, VA
City Tavern, Philadelphia
City Tavern, Richmond
Coffee House, NY
Common council, Bay City
East Chester
Fire, Fraser Hotel
Fraser Hotel, Bay City
Fountain, Baltimore
Fraunce's Tavern, NY
Globe House, Bay City
Masonic lodge, NY
Media, PA
New York
New York city
Reception committee
Rose Tree Inn
Smith Cove, NY
Sufferin's Tavern, NY
Tremont Hotel, Boston
True American Inn
Tun tavern
Washington, D.C.
Wenonah Building Co.
Wolverton Hotel, Bay City
Related History
1907 - The Bridgemen's Magazine, Vol. 7
-- The Wenonah Building Company, which will build Bay City's new hotel, has awarfed the contract for the erection of the same to the Moses Construction Company, of Chicago, Ill.; Estimated cost, $225,000.
1908 - The Painter & Decorator , Vol. 22
-- I was then called to Bay City to settle some trouble on the new Wenonah Hotel. The decorators, members of our Brotherhood, came there and insisted upon working 9 hours per day, regardless of the fact that our local had the 8 hour workday. -- Joseph P. Hunter
1913, May 14 - American Architect and Architecture.
Bay City - Two sets of plans calling for the extension of the Wenonah Hotel to sixth St. and providing for a auditorium and assembly room, have been received by Manager Shares. The erection of the addition will call for an expenditure of from $175,000 to $200,000 and, if present plans are accepted, bids will be advertised for and work started as soon as possible.
Internet Resources
[The Wenonah Hotel - 30 Years Later.] Published by The Bay City Times (Dec. 2007).
-- This is an excellent reference to the fire that ultimately closed the hotel. The story includes sound recordings from people who experience the fire and many images of the tragedy.
WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.